TEMPE, Ariz. — Andrew Velazquez had heard all of the stories about Ben Joyce, but seeing him was something different entirely.
After the Angels’ infielder stood in the box against Joyce on Monday, he came away convinced that it’s not just hype about the number 105 flashing on a radar gun.
“He’s ready for The Show right now,” Velazquez said Tuesday morning. “That’s some of the nastiest stuff you’re going to see. Not only that, but he knows where it’s going, knows how to use it.
“He’s throwing 100 in his first live (batting practice). What does that tell you? What would he do in a big-league stadium to close out a game, or in a big inning?”
There’s been a buzz in Angels camp about Joyce, the 22-year-old right-hander the Angels picked in the third round of last year’s draft. Since the official start of camp, Joyce has thrown one bullpen session and one live batting practice session, and both were well-attended “events.”
“Yesterday was pretty electric,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said of Joyce’s live BP. “Not sure he threw a fastball under 100. And he was locating. We moved him in and out and he hit the glove. (Catcher Max Stassi) came back raving about him.”
Nevin then added – unsolicited – that Joyce is in the mix to win a spot in the Angels’ bullpen right now.
“We’re going to take the best guys,” Nevin said. “We showed that last year. We were still in the hunt when we brought up (Chase) Silseth to make some starts. I’ve made that message clear to a lot of these guys that were either drafted last year the year before. We’re not afraid to bring somebody young and throw them right into the fire. And he’s certainly a guy that’s in that conversation.”
In order for Joyce to be a big-league reliever and not just a curiosity, though, he will need to do more than light up a radar gun. Although Joyce made headlines by hitting 105 mph last year at the University of Tennessee, he pitches routinely around 100-101 mph.
“Hitters are really good,” Nevin said. “If you just go and pump heaters, they’re going to get hit. I don’t care how hard you throw. He’s starting to learn that.”
The Angels have spent the winter with Joyce helping him develop his secondary pitches. Joyce throws two sliders, one that’s harder and one that’s more sweeping. He also throws a splitter and a cutter. Different people have different opinions on which is his best secondary pitch at this point, but Joyce said the hard slider is the one he likes the best.
Joyce pitched 13 innings at Double-A Rocket City last summer, allowing three earned runs, striking out 20 and walking four.
“He’s gotten so much better from last year, commanding all his pitches,” said catcher Logan O’Hoppe, who was with him at Double-A. “He’s got some special stuff.”
Joyce, who is 6-foot-5, also throws from a low arm slot, with a ride on his pitches that give the hitter the illusion the ball is actually coming up.
“He’s a big dude, an intimidating presence,” said Angels infielder Michael Stefanic, who also hit against Joyce on Monday. “He comes at you. Everything’s hard. He’s got really good stuff. I’m excited to see how it plays out in this camp against major-league hitters.”
Joyce said he’s been talking to as many coaches and veteran relievers as he can to try to soak up whatever knowledge they can impart.
“I feel like I’m learning something new every day,” he said. “I’m talking to analytical guys every chance I get. Just trying to get any edge I can. It’s a lot of information. And I’m here to take it all in.”
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